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Joe Mazzulla on win in Miami: “this was a great test for us”

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla spoke on the composure and execution the Celtics played with in their 111-104 win over the Miami Heat on Friday night.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics have now ripped off two straight wins as they head into a road matchup Saturday night against the Orlando Magic. Their foe on Friday night was a familiar one in the Miami Heat, as the two teams had their first meaningful matchup since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was everything one would have expected in a tightly fought contest, but Boston came out on top 111-104 as they managed to outlast Miami.

A previous version of the Celtics very well could have lost this game. Between frustration over calls and physical play, all the warning signs of a mental meltdown just waiting to happen were evident. But after last season and all of the high pressure, high stakes games, the overall makeup and composure of this team has changed drastically. The significance of how the team handled the Heat was not lost on head coach Joe Mazzulla.

“I said all along, we have great people, great players and they thrive in situations like this,” said Mazzulla. “There’s gonna be moments throughout the year where we’re gonna have to check our poise, check our execution and every game’s gonna teach us something about ourselves that we need to know.”

The recent history between Boston and Miami goes back many years to the Coach Stevens era, but the core of this team has remained relatively unchanged with the trio of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum still intact. Familiarity breeds contempt and with it comes a great deal of experience. Boston has learned the hard way about losing focus and composure down the stretch against teams, especially against Miami. “This was a great test for us,” said Mazulla. “I thought our guys did a great job responding but we’ll be judged by how well we handle our success.”

That’s in no small part to the trust and mutual respect this Celtics group has for one another, especially on the offensive end where Boston has seriously ramped up their pace and their ball movement after taking a leap last year. “I think we’re fighting to get great shots the majority of the time,” said Mazzulla. “And our guys are committed to playing together and playing the right way and trusting the fact that it works out for everybody when we do that.”

One knock on Brad Stevens as a coach was his habit of not calling timeouts as opponents would go on runs, with the intent of letting the team play through rough patches and try to figure it out without stopping play. Now, in the second regular season game under Mazzulla (the last remaining Stevens coaching staff member), we saw that same pattern emerge, but with drastically different results. The major factor has been the experience Boston’s core has gained over the years, and Mazzulla made sure to acknowledge it.

“The game will tell you what to do,” said Mazzulla. “At the same time, I think you have to assess why a team’s going on a run and what we can do in order to execute. And our guys, like I said, they’re very experienced, they’re mature, they’ve been through a lot together and I love watching these guys just kind of figure it out. And so to me, it’s empowering them that I believe in them and that they execute, and we can still get good looks.”

With the win tonight, Joe Mazzulla became the first coach since Doc Rivers to start a season off 2-0, with Doc accomplishing the feat during the 2009-10 season. Mazzulla and the Celtics will look to keep the ball rolling with a Saturday night showdown with the Magic at 7 pm EST.

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